How a Phoenix rose from the ashes. The Finale

Rebuilding a tuned bugeye through blood sweat and tears.

Lesson 3. Maintain the relationships you care about.

It’s race days in Colorado
Photo: S.D.Rivers
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 Last we left off the car was ready for paint. It ran like I would should I find myself facing the skunk ape. On our trip to the tuner we had the slightest whine from the transmission. It wasn’t enough to stop us but enough that we did stop for some extra gear oil and mention it to our tuner Keith. Turns out that the center differential was ultimately complaining about it’s being overworked with those 370+ horses running through it. We were told that we’d need to fix it but that it would likely be months before we’d need to address it. With that vote of confidence we brought her home and started on the last thing I think that matters.

It was really only missing a pretty dress of Storm Grey paint. Sadly before we could get it to the paint booth she got backed into. I remember hearing the impact. I was sitting in my chair in the den, watching tv, sipping on some scotch. WHAM. The rear driver quarter panel was the primary point of impact. The car wasn’t street parked but the driver was, lets say… especially negligent. She had a few dings to begin with though and now I had a great reason to get those professionally removed. We took the time to remove the original STi style spoiler and replaced it with a stock WRX unit. This was a practical choice to help us avoid any unneeded attention. Over the course of our stewardship with this car we’ve realized it’s a cop magnet. So to the body shop we went, for 4 months. The paint and body guy certainly took his time but he did take the car all the way back down to primer and look after it being just perfect esthetically. Finally, after all that time we had a properly dressed, seductress.

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We had no issues for over a year. We didn’t autocross or rallycross the car but we did drive it a few times each week. The transmission would make some racket at times but demonstrated no behavioral issues otherwise. Finally one day on the way home she gave up. Coming off a quick jaunt on the motorway in neutral you could hear as something between you and the passenger seat started chewing itself to bits. I nursed her the last mile home and parked it.

To remedy this issue we had a few options. Replace just the part inside that was broken, or replace the whole transmission. For us, replacing just the damaged piece seemed to be a fool’s errand. There was no way we could know what was wrong for sure until we cracked the transmission case. That would mean days with the car out of commission while we took everything apart and then sourced whatever part we needed. So we chose instead to source a new transmission.

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In most cars this is very straightforward. You replace with exactly the same kind of transmission. In our car, the motor had already been replaced with a JDM version of the USDM cars heart. Subaru has made so many of these cars, in so many slight variations over the years that we had a few good options. A USDM Transmission ran up a tab of over $2000 so we sourced a low mileage JDM example with slightly shorter gears. This would mean quicker starts off the line and theoretically a lower top speed. We have never maxed this car out before or after so couldn’t tell you.

In picking out a used transmission we focused on low miles, compatibility with our current CV axles and since we were changing our gear ratio the rear diff would have to change as well. We found all those in one purchase out of California for $1000. Once it arrived we had the old one out and the new one in over the course of 24 hours. This was a far more straightforward swap than you might first think. Everything bolted up just as it should have. It helped to have a couple good mates there and all the tools we needed before we began the surgery. Also very important was doing research before hand to best understand how to do the job most efficiently. Finally it was time to go racing.

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Race day was a bit surreal. It had been so long since we raced the car in our old home state. It had been so long since the beginning of this transformation into the car that now looks like and drives like we had always wanted. We were actually nervous about how we personally would perform and I think that was a good sign. We clearly had enough confidence in the car that it wasn’t going to break.

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Video of one run here

Our 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX has been a part of our lives now for more than 10 years. It’s put us through a lot. We’ve worked so hard to keep it running, to build it into our little rally dream car. Like any good relationship there have been speed bumps, both between the two of us and between us and the car. Similarly we’re better off, stronger and of more character having successfully worked through those major issues. Just the same, some days it’s still a pain in the butt. We’re currently working through a weird starting issue that pops up randomly. However, that’s the nature of any worthwhile relationship. They always take diligent maintenance. Sometimes things that seem bulletproof need shoring up. We’ve grown stronger as we’ve worked hard together to improve ourselves and the car.

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The Proud Owner and the most ironic hoodie ever with her car in mind.
Image: S.D.Rivers

Imagine how different life would’ve been had we just given up and sold this little car after the motor broke all those years ago. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to enjoy this years season of autocross. That first race day Phoenix ran like she never had before. She was the talk of the day. I’m so thankful we’ve had the pleasure of having her in our lives.

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